One of Shirky’s points is that the idea of a separation between “cyberspace” and the “real world” is increasingly becoming irrelevant– the real and virtual worlds are becoming one. Do you see this happening in your life or people you know? If so, what are some of the characteristics of this coming together?
When Shirky talks about the current revolution that is similar to the revolution of the printing press– giving many more the means to make and publish– he notes that it is similar but has significant differences. What are some of those differences?
How does the idea of operating in a culture of “abundance” differ from once of “scarcity?” Shirky notes that the idea of citizen reporters and journalists have changed the way we find out about news and events, using the London subway bombings as an example. The web has become a source of news that outpaces traditional media: is this a good thing? Where do you go for news that is happening right now as opposed to a week ago (or even yesterday)?
The next time you’re out, take a moment to look around and count how many people you see on their mobile phones. Do the same at work. Repeat at school. If you’re in a town like Fairbanks, you’ll notice a horridly high proportion of people staring down at the little screens, typing away as they lose themselves in their virtual world. No longer do the boundaries between the ‘real’ world and the virtual ‘world’. It is understandable, though – with all the tweeting, status updates, and Farmville we have to pay attention to nowadays, how can we possibly feel as if we need to discern real life from cyberspace? Priorities are shifting, and with it comes a shift in where we place our reality. I mean, really: why go out to plant your own produce when you can sit in the warmth and safety of your home to farm online? At least you don’t have to get dirty when you’re staring at the computer screen.
We have entered the Twilight Zone, folks. Virtual Reality at its finest.
Image courtesy Zynga
But why stop at Farming? Though plenty of games have been developed to meet our agricultural needs – Harvest Moon, Farmville, Tiny Farm, Farm Simulator 2013 – we now have access to plenty of other real-world simulators so that we can gain as much experience with typical skilled jobs without needing to leave our caves. Below are some of my personal favourites:
These (along with hundreds of other titles from Excalibur, Namco, Zynga, and plenty of other companies) make me wonder exactly how blurred the line between reality and virtual reality is becoming. Perhaps some people are more far-gone than others, but I do believe that there has become an area of grey in-between the two worlds in which perhaps there is no differentiation between them. The progression of social gaming simulators like FarmVille or Farm Simulator is not unrivaled; social media in the form of profile pages and timelines are evolving at just as rapid a pace.
With each passing day, I see social media become more prominent in the world around me – most notably in the form of Facebook, despite my personal participation in the site being virtually zero. No, it is not I who spends hours looking at updates of what other people are posting (for such an activity, I use Tumblr), but rather the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis. Some typical questions or comments I receive may be phrased as:
“Did you see [Insert name of person I vaguely know] posted something about [insert social dilemma], and now he’s going to try and spread awareness by getting likes on his page? You should like it, too. I’ll send it to you soon.”
“I spoke with my [relative/old friend/former classmate/other (circle one)] last night on Facebook. I guess they got a rabbit that the cat really hates. They posted a video, it’s so funny, you should watch it.”
“Were you on Facebook? I thought I saw your profile as active again. Was it? Why didn’t you comment on my page?”
Makes me want to toss my phone off the Empire State Building.
Now, while these things are typically interesting to the teenagers who post them, they are practically commentary specifically geared to put me to sleep. No longer do I hear about how anyone went out to do something fun and productive with anyone else; it’s as if the social activity has somehow become perusing Facebook all night, and that socialization now includes the systematic series of comments, pokes, and posts a typical Facebook user creates during their time online.
As this social media dependence continues to grow, we see the means of obtaining news begin to shift as well. (As it turns out, the internet is virtually displacing the need for both reality and television; go figure.) Many young people will openly admit that they obtain their news from online sources – including Facebook. I will also openly admit that I get my news online through apps like Pulse – a News, Blog, Magazine, and Social reader – or sites like BBC News. It’s both easier on my schedule and my mind in this form, for nothing is more irritating than watching a news anchor interject their own beliefs or opinions into what should be simply facts about what is happening in the world. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me.
Regardless, being able to go online and do a Google search for “North Korea Threats” and receive hundreds of results from hundreds of sites displays how abundant our media is becoming – and while the variety is nice to some, it is overall irritating. Who is right? Who is least biased? Who has the latest information? One has to sift through a few articles before painting a decent picture for themselves to figure out what the true story is. Alas, that is one of the fallacies of online media and the ability for people to publish on their own without filtering through a publisher. As Shirky points out, this abundance leads to a loss of quality in the things which we read or consume, a parallel to the revolution of the printing press. When we make the means to publish material more accessible to everyone, we see the content available become far more abundant yet of a lesser quality.
All in all, we are amidst our media revolution and still watching it evolve day to day. Perhaps we’ll watch a new form of publishing spring up soon enough to once again place an emphasis on standards – but that seems highly unlikely. Why care about publishers when you can simply type something up on WordPress and publish it for the world to see – and for free, at that!